If that’s not a mantra to live by, do I really want to live?

2018 wasn’t all bad.

For most people, that’s a given. I’m not most people. I live in an echo chamber that amplifies all of the worst things happening and broadcasts them on a constant stream. The Internet is a lot, folks. 2018 was a rough year for me. It seemed to be a year in which failure climbed atop failure in a shit heap of failures, odious and all-consuming. I weathered some of the worst depression I have thus far. 2018 has been a year in which I’ve put out a ton of energy and gotten little but exhaustion back. It’s sucked. It’s also, as the trope has gone, felt like a decade crammed into 365 days.

That said.

Not everything was an implosion. Of course I’m trending towards the dramatic, a) because it’s more interesting and b) it’s what I’ve learned from my online peers. 2018 had its good points too. There were a bunch of moments that made me truly happy. Since I’m trying to put myself into a positive mood for tonight’s celebrations, I might as well look back at them. Bullet (point) Time:

  • Austin. Going to Austin this year was one of the best holidays I’ve taken in my life. I’ve talked at length about it, so why not talk more? I went with a couple, two good friends. We found a wavelength and rode it all the way. We spent the whole time having great conversations and amassing a ton of running jokes. There was an abundance of tasty things to eat and drink. Booze was incredibly cheap, being the US, so we took advantage. We saw sights, met locals and I got to get up early to write every day. I also, with the help of a friend, was encouraged to give stand up another try and it made my holiday. I returned from the trip glowing, filled with a new sense of purpose and perspective that 2018 quickly crushed to dust.
  • Baby’s First Burn. Don’t worry, they’re not all gonna be holidays. Aside from Austin, the other big trip I took was considerably closer to home. I went to Hyperborea, a regional Burn and my first ever. When I say “Burn”, it’s basically Burning Man on a small scale. Going to Hyperborea meant spending a critical mass of time with close friends. I deepened pre-existing connections and met a ton of new people. Campers were so generous with time and resources. Disengaging from a workplace schedule meant everyone was more present than they would be in the city. I got to throw flame tipped darts at kerosene filled balloons, participate in a live dating show, try infused spirits from an apothecary and dance my ever lovin’ footsies off. I felt able to be so authentically me, and left the camp with a new sense of purpose that 2018 once again obliterated.
  • Asking For Help. I hate asking for help. Always have, hopefully won’t always. This year though, I had no choice. I could either reach out or wither completely. I managed to find my way into OHIP sponsored therapy, which is unbelievably lucky. I laid things out honestly for my boss and told her my needs. I wanted to be able to disappear for therapy when I needed and work from home if I was having a rough day. She was on board, providing my work wouldn’t suffer. I’ve been there for long enough that I could probably do the work in my sleep, so that has yet to be an issue. It helped. Taking ownership of what I was going through and finding resources to mediate my experiences was a big fucking deal. I’m still here, and that counts for a bunch.
  • Magic Arena: Wizards’ latest foray into the digital world was a colossal success. I’m not sure how many hundreds of hours I’ve logged on this game, but I know I’ve spent a grand total of $5USD. I’ve entirely stopped buying physical cards and I’m likely saving a bunch accordingly. For the first time in my life, it’s let me draft consistently. Also, for the first time in years, I may actually be spending more time playing Magic than reading about it. Will the wonders never cease?
  • Five Years Writing. I hit my five year mark at this here project. While in abstract the five year milestone told me I could actually commit to something and see it through, it was a little more than that on an emotional level. I hosted an intimate night with friends where we did readings of our favourite entries. Yes, it was the most narcissistic thing I’ve ever done, but it was also hugely affirming. People reading stuff I’d written and long forgotten felt great. Hearing my words through the mouths of friends made me realise that I’ve actually done some pretty great stuff here. Sure, I might phone it in 99% of the time, but I haven’t called it quits. Every now and again I bang something out and feel great about it, which means there’s still a point to this whole arrangement. Regardless of what happened in 2018, this was an accomplishment.

I’d say that 2019 is going to be my year, but I feel like I say that every year and it rarely is. So here’s to low expectations.

Advertisements

Tastes like home fries

At the close of any year, it’s hard not to be contemplative. We arbitrarily divide time by journeys around the sun, so it’s only natural to try and find meaning in why we do so. How can I condense this collection of 365 days into lessons I can take forward? If the past 12 months haven’t meant anything, why did I bother living them? In a sprawling, gratuitous year like 2018, I’ve been scrambling to make meaning of the madness.

Let’s see how this goes.

It only dawned on me, as I walked to my now traditional Sunday dive bar brunch, that in The Year Of Our Lord 2018, I’ve actively pulled in my locus. I’ve been here for over five years now. It’s the second longest I’ve lived anywhere. Moving to Toronto was the biggest shift in my adult life, and whenever something goes wrong, it’s the first place I start to question “why?” It’s only for a split second, and says less about any desire to not be here, as it does to my need for context. I know that this was the best decision I could’ve made. Despite the URL, I have no doubts about where I am. I think though, that I’m constantly looking for signs that I’m heading somewhere. An understanding about where I am helps me better see where I’m going. This year, I’ve started actually seeing my neighbourhood. It’s always been there, even if mentally I’ve been elsewhere.

I was a little (quite) stoned one night and on the lookout for some kind of comfort food. I thought to the Chinese/Polynesian place I’d passed a million times and never entered. I went in and had a WEIRD experience. I’ve found myself going back time and time again (often sober) and really coming to appreciate the place. It’s thoroughly mediocre. I’m sure I could get much better food elsewhere. I could order without leaving the house, but I have no way of knowing if their food would be cooked with so much goddamn heart. It’s a cute little unassuming hole in the wall. There are seats, a desk, and a door going back into a kitchen. There’s a gangly teenager at the desk. The kitchen is nothing but a dude and his elderly mother. He’s the nicest bloke, apologetic about things beyond his control, always tossing in a free coke or remembering your name the next time you walk in. His mum always has a smile from ear to ear as she throws in dashes of her own spice mixes and sloshes oil around in a pan. They’re the type of people who work so hard and never complain. It’s nice to appreciate people like that, y’know? I want them to succeed, so I keep coming back, despite the plethora of alternate options. Also it’s uncomfortably cheap, and the portions are huge. Also that.

I’ve had a local coffee joint for a few years now. My girlfriend and I love making it part of our weekend ritual. If I’m ever working from home it’s a total treat to grab a mocha or flat white to take back home (or, more accurately, finish on the walk). The owners are apparently lovely, so the employees tend to stick around for a while. They’re all friendly, and great at what they do. It’s always nice to chat with the British beanie dude about his new indie folk obsessions or stand up comedy. It’s the kind of place in which I now know where they keep replacement cup lids. It’s this kind of place because I’ve wanted to help out and restock the lids before, I want to see them keep ticking along. This place being around grounds me in my area, it’s a connection to ritual, comfort. There are so many great options for coffee around this city, but none of them are this place. They might be technically “better”, but better is subjective, y’know?

I’m writing this from my aforementioned dive bar brunch. I’ve searched for years for a “local” a bar or pub in which I could feel totally welcome. A place where I could either be ignored or find connection, depending the mood. I may have found it, even if I rarely drink here. There’s a jumbo hound prone on the floor. A man walked in earlier, took one look at him and said “aren’t you friendly and large?” Right on man, right on. The vinyl just changed from reggae to Dylan. There’s a jar of candy canes near the door for people to help themselves. There’s a timeless air to this spot. In a way, I come here to exist outside time. I pull out my keyboard and soak it in. It’s just me, a plate of eggs and home fries, and whatever rabble walk through that door. It’s the kind of bar where the bartender will, without fear, casually throw out “I’m just disappearing for a few minutes. Don’t let the place burn down.” Who would want to? It’s all drifters here, and this place feels like home. It’s been ten minutes already. I hope she makes it back. I think we all need whatever it is this bar gives us.

Putting it all together, it paints a pretty clear picture. These places aren’t new, and I didn’t just arrive here. 2018 has been year of withdrawing, cocooning out of necessity. It’s been hard knowing what holds me up when I feel like I’ve been endlessly falling. I’ve retracted, and sought foundations I could call on. In my lowest ebbs, I’ve sorely needed sight of land. Finding stability within my radius has helped me understand, in some small way, where I am. In other, subtler ways, having these touchstones has taught me something else. I am here. In times where my tether to reality has been gossamer thin, the feeling of belonging has kept me anchored. It’s stopped me from drifting to places beyond return. It all sounds trite and maudlin, but it isn’t. I know where I am, and I love it.

In times where meaning frequently seems out of reach, that’s a lesson worth taking forward.

Was that wine story a bore, ‘do?

Do your eyes ever hurt for no reason?

I have a reason. I’m sick. That doesn’t mean my eyes should hurt. I have a sore throat, that certainly doesn’t mean my eyes should hurt. Though if you do the math and work out that to compensate for not having the energy to do things, I’ve been planted in front of my computer, it makes some sense that my eyes could hurt. I want them not to, however. I guess I’m just shit out of luck. Look, my brain has melted or something. This could also contribute to the hurt-y eye phenomenon. Over the past few days I’ve been forcing myself to work on this job application. I made myself write the piece when I didn’t feel up to it. I pushed myself into going over to a friend’s house and borrowing their mic. I then made sure I recorded my vocals that night, despite the fact that my girlfriend was home and I felt fucking mortified and embarrassed to be doing it within her earshot. She said she was wearing headphones, but behind closed doors, who knows? If someone lied about something for my own personal comfort and I didn’t find out otherwise, did it really matter? Ultimately, no, because I did my recording regardless. Then I got sucked into editing and lost a few hours. Then yesterday I powered through working at home, and spent most of the day tooling around with my audio piece. I found some good atmospheric drones, I put together a bunch of SFX, I did a shit ton of voice modulation and other effects. To be honest, I had a great time messing around and making something. Then after finishing the piece, I wrote a cover letter for my application. It was thoroughly exhausting, creatively and emotionally.

Which is an easy way of explaining why I went out drinking last night. I had no real plans, and a friend offered some kind of weird, witchy experimental dance performance to see. It was strange, but sort of intimate and intense. I’m glad I went, but I haven’t fully figured out why yet. If anything, it was nice to drink red wine again. There was some kind of rider about bringing red wine along, so I traipsed over to the LCBO and searched around. I don’t know shit about red wine. Years ago I told myself I liked pinot noir, then stopped drinking red wine for years. At the LCBO I tried to reverse engineer the right answer as to what a good red wine is. I looked around the regions. Something in my brain told me that Chileans and Spaniards loved red vino, but I couldn’t find any pinot noirs (because of my arbitrary understanding, this mattered). Then my brain was like hey, remember that time Bart went on a student exchange program and got press ganged into making red wine? And I remembered, because my brain can’t separate cartoons from a) reality and b) my own history. So I looked in the French wine section and saw a bunch of reds. I then reverted to my other understanding of wine, which tells me that anything in the $13-$16 range is probably fine. I found something from Bordeaux, which seemed like a spooky, witchy sounding area. If the choix fits? It was choice, full bodied and vibrant. Which is weird, ’cause I always thought I liked sweet wines, irrespective of style. Turns out all I know about wine is that I don’t know shit about it.

After chatting for hours with my friend and others who visited the art thing, we headed over to some dance party after party. It was dope. It was just in someone’s apartment, but they’d loaded in speakers and a DJ deck. There was a “drawing room” where you could draw on the walls with the art supplies provided. They were selling drinks and whatnot too, plus there was a deck out back to let off whatever steam you’d built up on the dance floor. Speaking of the dance floor, holy shit was it ever tight. I mean, “tight” because it was crammed, but also some busted Dancehall moves. I fucking love seeing people do Dancehall. The movements are so sharp and energetic. There’s a lot of stomping, as well as bumping and grinding that sometimes pushes risque boundaries even for me (just google Extreme Daggering). Nevertheless, it’s cool as shit to watch when people excel at it. My feeble and battered body after a week of some intense physical movement stumbled in the front door around 3.30am.

Okay, so it just so happens I’ve had insufficient sleep for proper function over the past few weeks. For a change. Maybe my eyes hurt for a very good reason.

Sure, if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. Counterpoint: It’s also really hard to fall when you’re lying down

I’m applying for a job that I’m not 100% qualified for. I know it. I know the dude who’s doing the hiring, and I’m sure he knows it too. So I’m resorting to weird stunts in order to try and get some kind of edge. If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it. It’s not like I have standards to fall back on or anything. Here’s my cover letter.

Dear [REDACTED].

Re. Creative Writer position.

Have you ever sniffed something in your fridge, been 98% sure it was rotten, then found that it tied your meal together somehow? At first glance, I wouldn’t make sense for this position, I get it. I’ve been out of radio for some time. My background is in audio production. I’ve been doing whatever arcane rituals the TV people conduct with [REDACTED]. I’m also uncomfortably creative and aggressively tenacious. I know I’d write the Hell, Heck or Hades out of whatever commercial scripts came my way, but you don’t. Yet. There’s our issue.

Look, I know you want someone with more experience. You want someone who’s battled in the trenches of small town radio. You want someone who a) ain’t heavy and b) is your brother. I’m young enough to be aware that this mindset is a) fatphobic, b) sexist and c) total nepotism. At the same time, I’m old enough and wise enough to know how to pick my battles. At the very least, you want a writer. Fortunately I know enough about writing to realise what “lampshading” is, and that you didn’t say anything untoward: I just said you did, then acted accordingly. It’s not your fault, but you could still make it right.

Everyone loves an underdog. Everyone. Except maybe villains and liars. I don’t think you’re either, and I hope you’re not gonna prove me wrong. When you’re on your deathbed, won’t you want to look back on your life and think about those times you made the right call? Specifically those times when the right call involved hiring a persistent, well-meaning (and admittedly weird) New Zealander with delusions of grandeur? Even more specifically, when the right call was about a radio creative writing job at the beginning of 2019? When you’re breathing your last breaths, surrounded by those you love, won’t some part of you drift back to this unnecessarily precise scenario and think of the time you gave some poor kid – or even a 31 year old who’s been around the tracks a few times and should probably know better by now – a chance? In that entirely unambiguous set up, what do you want to remember? The time you made the safe bet? Or how you rolled the dice, bet on the house and knew when to hold (not fold) ‘em?

Let’s be real here. I know that I’m not the conventional choice. I know that my chances of even getting an interview for this job are slim to none. I also know that I wouldn’t put myself out on the line in this – frankly pretty embarrassing – situation unless I truly believed in my potential. I know myself well enough to understand that while I might not be the conventional choice, I’d be a damn good one.

What I don’t know, however, is if you cook and whether or not that opening metaphor made any sense to you. That was my gamble, are you ready to make one?

Yours sincerely,
Leon Weinstein

When trees ask other trees out on dates are they going out on a limb?

It’s hard to believe that I sometimes forget I’m 31, not 25. If I’m ever in doubt, however, my body is quick to remind me.

Today it’s screaming. Muscles and ligaments alike are all howling in displeasure. It’s like my body is trying to morse code “mercy” to my brain, but with twitches and twinges of pain. My legs feel static and worn, muscles in my back I didn’t realise I had are making themselves known through soreness. My lower back is stiff and inflexible. Even my left thumb has given up the ghost for greener pastures. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for the fun I had. Why? ‘Cause I finally got to road test the new Pursuit OCR location.

I’ve been a fan of Pursuit OCR for some time. When I first heard one of my friends was working on assembling an indoor obstacle course race, it hit all of my boxes: Friends, running/climbing things, zero chance of sunburn. It lived up to all my expectations and over time, surpassed them. The obstacles all offered a variety of solutions. There were chances to go over, under, or even around most of them. The attitude was as supportive as possible. People were encouraged to play and not to stress about winning. There was an onus on accessibility for people of all fitness levels, a principle close to my heart. There were killer classes for a wide variety of athletic interests. It’s where I tried my first acro yoga class. They continued to evolve, adding new obstacles or changing up existing ones. Most importantly, it was fun as hell. The environment naturally fostered the kind of community who naturally bolstered others. I can’t count how many times I saw strangers cheering on other strangers. There was no coercion, just empathy. Pursuit OCR even had non-gendered bathrooms before it was commonplace. Effortlessly with its heart in the right place.

Then it happened. The ideal downtown Toronto location on Dufferin by Queen closed down. A new, much larger location was found, but these things take time. I waited. And waited.

Until yesterday, when I stopped waiting and finally got out there. At 75 Westmore Ave, it’s not in downtown Toronto, but still accessible by TTC. It does take a while to get there, so if you’re travelling via public transit, make a day of it.

It’s SO much bigger. From what I last heard, about three times the size. From the moment you enter, it’s wall to wall aesthetics. Aside from being a fun place bounce around, it was definitely designed for endless Instagram opportunities. If that’s not your think, you’ll just have to “suffer” through the fact that everything looks cool as hell. Shifting mood lighting in bold pinks, blues and greens, graffiti art walls, stacks of climbable pseudo Tetris blocks. The course has a ton of wicked spots to goof around and take great pictures. I’m not saying by any means that’s all it’s for, but it’s definitely an option and I know a lot of people like that.

Me? I just wanted to put the place through its paces. Thing is, even after stretching my dry old bones, I was pooped halfway through the course. We took it at a leisurely speed, trying obstacles multiple ways. Right at the start there are a series of blocks that are climbable, parkour-able and duck-able. My friend and I looked for a bunch of ways to traverse them. Then after spending five to ten minutes working over those, we found a neat three walled jungle gym. Solid pipes lined an overhead and two side walls in an array of directions. It was like putting together a puzzle, but one that played hacky sack with your lats. I felt attuned with my inner chimp as I crawled up the pipes, hung down, and walked sideways across the walls. My friend and I tried a couple of poses, giving a metaphorical middle finger to gravity. How often do you get that chance?

Look, I’ve described two, maybe three obstacles. There are a ton. They take inspiration from pop-culture as diverse as American Gladiators and Die Hard. There are ersatz vents to climb and slide through, complete with little fans at the back (purely for atmosphere, of course). The horizontal netting is exhausting to cross, but if you’re feeling frisky you can slackline the entire way. There are heaps of hanging obstacles, which explains why my upper body has given up the ghost today. The ring swings returned from the past course, over a sea of foam this time. There’s a room filled to the brim with swiss balls. I had a great time trying to walk only on balls without touching the ground. The bouldering wall is exhausting, and offers a bunch of creative solutions. The ball pit in this new location is enormous and deceivingly tiring. It’s right at the end, and takes everything in the tank to traverse. Of course, it’s so deep that you could spend your time doing cannonballs into it instead.

I haven’t even mentioned the drift trikes. This time around, there’s a fun drift trike course that weaves below the obstacles. The trikes have log handles and two big wheels in the back. They peddle exactly as you’d expect, but if you sharp turn the handles, you can drift around corners. It’s entirely like real life Mario Kart. It’s a simple enough course, but mastering the handling of such a dinky little three-wheeler takes an age. For the most part if you try to drift too hard you’ll just harmlessly turn in a circle. Maybe you’ll gently bump into the wall behind you. We had a goddamn riot trying to synch up our turns and go up the skate bowl style corner. We tried the bikes almost as an afterthought and they were a total blast.

I may be a slowly withering skin sack of bones, but sometimes I get to feel like a kid again. If that’s something you want in your life instead of just hate-scrolling Twitter (you can still do that too) check out Pursuit OCR.

Even with a sore left thumb, I’ll give it two thumbs up.

The experience does leave me wonton

Do they call it Boxing Day because after stuffing yourself at Christmas you want to take yourself back to the store and swap for a working model?

You know what? I had a great day and every inch of stuffing was earned. My girlfriend and I passed our most rigorous of trials and successfully ordered Chinese food. It’s a struggle for the ages. I’m a maximiser, she’s a satisficer. I’m looking to extract every inch of potential from any order and create the dream scenario. She just wants to have a couple of things she enjoys. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it is.

There are dietary restrictions and personal tastes thrown into the mix. Then cost becomes an issue, so it has to be planned economically. Restaurants with free delivery get prioritised, but then there’ll always be some issue with those. Either they’ll be closed on the day we choose to order or there’ll be a two hour wait. So we’ll look for options with a delivery fee, but then maybe they won’t have the dishes we’re looking for or might be Northern Chinese or something. Not bad by any means, but not having the specificity we want. Then once we find a place, I’ll always want to read reviews in case it’s actually terrible. Maybe the food will be subpar (and the bar is already pretty low) or they’ll have a series of screwed up/mega late deliveries.

THEN after finding a suitable place, it’s a matter of finding dishes that fit both the bare minimum my girlfriend seeks from the meal, and my desire to match flavours, textures, a variety of meats, sauces and starches. Like, fried rice is kind of boring to me, but my girlfriend likes it. I’m 100% fine with fried rice if it’s being used as a base for sauces, ’cause then it works well. But I always want to have a meal stacked with veggies as well as sauces and meats. Unfortunately, a ton of Chinese menus don’t mention the vegetable content of a dish unless it’s “chicken and vegetables” or something, so it can be a gamble and I’ll often want to hedge my bets with something where vegetables are mentioned just in case. But since I find “chicken and vegetables” kinda boring, I’ll want something with a sauce that’ll shore up any deficiencies of the fried rice. I like spicy stuff. My girlfriend also likes spicy stuff, but not to the degree that I do. With all these factors, it becomes a puzzle of working out how I can maximise the experience while meeting all of my girlfriend’s needs.

But since these aren’t concerns we share, the whole experience becomes stressful for her, because she just wants to eat. And time ticks on and she gets hungry while this three ring circus of option paralysis is in full swing. Then once we put together the perfect menu something will happen with whatever online service we used, so our entire order gets scrapped and we have to start again. After 45 minutes to an hour putting this all together, we can finally order. Then invariably there’s a long wait. Or like last night, they say it’ll be 55 minutes and it’ll be an hour and a half. Which is why we started our order process just after 5pm yesterday and didn’t quite eat until around 8pm.

Was that as exhausting to read as it is to live? Maybe get yourself something to eat. You could order in…

I don’t care how many Air Bud Christmas films there are (technically four, if you count the Christmas segment of the first), we’re watching anything else

Merry Christmas in whatever that means to you.

I’m still figuring that one out. After a lifetime of hijacking/third wheeling other people’s Christmases, I’m in the process of working out what mine resembles. My childhood patterns brought out my inner Grinch for years, but as a fully fledged adult I’m left wondering why be a martyr instead of merry-er? Over the past few years, my girlfriend and I have been practicing traditions to check which we like. We’ve held a bunch of Orphan’s/Misfit’s Christmases, bringing friends together at the table for abundant food, drink and warmth. Subsequent years after the stress of hosting, we’ve tended to pull back and try our own thing. Our last attempt at Jewish Christmas (Chinese takeout and movies) got hijacked by friends’ dietary restrictions (turnabout is fair play, I guess). This holiday cycle we’re trying it again. We have the house to ourselves (upstairs and downstairs neighbours absent) and no need to leave at all. We have a house full of food, an internet full of movies and a bunch of legal weed. We’re gonna get an excessive amount of takeout and pig out, like the Good Lord intended.

Still, it’s the afternoon. How did I get through Christmas morning? Well of course I woke up unceremoniously early. I played (lost) Magic for a while, brewed up some coffee and went for a run. It was blissfully still out on those roads. The footpaths were clear, save the occasional jogger or dog walker. Everyone smiled and waved back. The cheer was subtle, but pervasive. The roads were empty but for a smattering of cars. It was mildly chilly, but the ground was dry. A few errant snowflakes drifted down, but the concrete under my feet felt like a Christmas miracle. Aside from my creaky, ancient bones and joints, everything aligned perfectly. It was a swell way to start off a prime indoor day.

We group chatted with my girlfriend’s family (complete with the traditional holiday technical difficulties) and cooked up a big breakfast. Applewood smoked sausages, hearty toast and maple bacon marmalade. A vegetable medley with onions, mushrooms, capsicum and garlic, and two eggs once over easy. It’s quiet, but comfortable. Not traditional, but it could be. The lights are on, the mood is calm. There’s a peace to this kind of routine that’d sit well with me for the future.

Traditions need to start somewhere, don’t they?

Speaking of starting, what’re we gonna watch first?